October 24, 2022 What It’s Like to Be an ABA Therapist
You may be wondering what it's like to be an ABA therapist. After you read this article, you will know what a practitioner's average day looks like, the job's main pros and cons, how you, yourself, can become a successful ABA therapist, and more.
What is ABA therapy?ABA therapy stands for applied behavior analysis. It is a therapeutic approach that helps autistic children and adults with controlling their behaviors and autism symptoms.
The ABCs of ABAOne of the basic concepts of ABA therapy is the ABC (antecedent, behavior, and consequence). Practicing professionals rely on the ABC to understand why an autistic patient is behaving a certain way. First of all, ABA therapists identify the emotional, verbal, visual, physical, or other type of antecedent that led to the behavior. For example, the antecedent may be a word that upset the child, a bad thought that they had, or a loud noise that came from the TV. The behavior is how the kid reacted, such as by crying, screaming, pulling their hair, or throwing objects. Finally, ABA therapists determine the consequence that followed and its influence on the behavior. To illustrate, here is an example:
- Antecedent: An autistic child's parents turned on the TV.
- Behavior: The child started to cry and pull their hair because they felt that the TV volume was too loud.
- Consequence: To stop the child's behavior, the parents turn off the TV or (if they didn't know why their kid was crying) give them some ice cream.
Interpersonal Therapy and ABAA crucial aspect to ABA is interpersonal therapy. This method looks at how a patient's mental health is shaped by the way that they relate to and communicate with their family members, friends, classmates, teachers, and others in their lives. Regardless of whether a therapist uses the ABC or interpersonal approach (or both), their main role is to help autistic children develop their social, academic, behavioral, motor, and overall skills. ABA therapists typically engage in activities and routines that revolve around these goals.
What does a typical day look like for an ABA therapist?If you are thinking about becoming an ABA therapist, here are examples of what you will work with autistic children on:
- Behavioral Skills: Teaching them to sit still on the table, not scratching or biting when upset, and sharing belongings.
- Communication: Showing them how to verbally ask for a toy or express that they're uncomfortable or unhappy.
- Social Skills: Guide them as they play with others, make new friends, and become confident enough to ask questions in the classroom.
- Academic Performance: Making sure that they learn how to do their homework without being told to, put away their items when they're done, and politely ask to watch TV or play with their toys after they're finished.
Mediums That ABA Therapists UseAs a practitioner, you may take advantage of iPad apps to improve autistic children's skills and play interactive digital and offline games with them. The following are a few of the benefits of therapeutic iPad use:
- You can watch and emulate yoga and exercise videos. This is particularly important because it shows autistic kids how to regulate their body movements and enhance their balance and coordination.
- An iPad stylus (a pen-shaped tool) helps girls and boys with autism learn how to write (via apps).
- The stylus also allows them to develop their motor skills when they touch and navigate the iPad screen with it (instead of doing so with their fingers).
- Dancing and music apps may act as a form of music and movement therapy.
- Dressing up dolls teaches a child new words/sentences and encourages them to speak.
- Play dough calms the senses of patients with ASD and energizes their sensory processes.
- Games that entail organizing items based on their colors.
Settings: Individual vs Group TherapyABA therapists observe children in one or both of the following settings:
- Group Therapy: Here, the practitioner monitors how the child interacts with their classmates or treats them among a group of other autistic patients.
- Individually: The ABA therapist holds one-on-one sessions with the boy or girl.
Locations That Therapists Work InHere are a few potential places that ABA therapists could watch and work with patients in:
- Home Visits: You would frequently spend most/all of the day at the child's home and conduct ABA sessions there.
- The Therapist's Office: As a therapist, you will have to see and treat kids at your office, as well. However, it may take the patient more time to get fully comfortable with office sessions in comparison to at-home ones.
- At School: Some practitioners go to the boy or girl's school to help them with their social and communication skills.
- Other Events: In the same vein, therapists commonly observe autistic children at playgrounds, family gatherings, and other social events.
Is being an ABA therapist difficult?Professional therapists often run into difficulties and challenges in applied behavior analysis that require patience, organization, and dedication, such as the following:
- Taking on physical tasks like sitting or standing beside the child as they eat or play, keeping up with their energy levels, and preventing them from causing damage.
- Addressing problematic and troublesome behaviors. For example, a kid may excessively yell or cry, damage furniture, and throw objects when they're upset or stressed.
- Managing a high amount of caseloads.
- Finding an appropriate work-life balance.
- Switching between a therapist-patient/child approach to a collaborative one when they talk to the parents or teach them behavioral management techniques.
Is being an ABA therapist a rewarding job?Yes, it is. In fact, many ABA therapists appreciate and enjoy the rewarding and fulfilling nature of their job due to the following reasons and more:
- They get to see autistic children improve their skills and reach important personal, academic, social, and developmental milestones.
- ABA practitioners witness the happiness and pride that they brought to a family firsthand.
- Throughout the day, therapists experience the joyfulness and lightheartedness of working with kids.
- They fulfill their passion for giving to others and making a difference in people's lives.
How can I be a successful ABA therapist?To attain a successful and fruitful career as an ABA therapist, here are some of the qualities that you want to develop or hone:
- A passion for the career.
- The patience and willingness to invest in growth and progress. After all, you won't reap the rewards or notice a major change overnight.
- You enjoy engaging with children, playing games with them, and participating in other activities for kids.
How do I get started on becoming an ABA therapist?The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is in charge of overseeing the processes that aspiring ABA therapists have to go through to get certified. There are three types of certificates that allow you to practice ABA therapy:
- Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA)
- Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
- Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D)
Become a BCaBA with a Bachelor’s DegreeTo get your BCaBA certification, follow these steps:
- Get your undergraduate degree. If your degree is from a college or university that is accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), skip step 2 and go to step 3.
- If your school is not accredited, enroll in 225 classroom hours’ worth of behavior-analytic courses as you work towards your degree. To clarify, this is equal to 15 semester credits or about 23 quarter credits.
- Complete 1,000 to 1,300 field hours under the oversight of a supervisor who meets certain requirements.
- Submit your application and documents (including your degree and verification that you finished your fieldwork program).
- You can expect to hear back within 45 days with an approval or a denial.
- If your application is approved, schedule your exam and pass it.
- Check your local or state rules for ABA therapists and, if there are any, make sure that you meet them.
- Regularly work as an ABA practitioner and avoid stopping for prolonged or extended periods.
- Be consistently supervised.
- Meet ethical requirements.
- Renew your certification every two years.
Become a BCBA with a Master’s Degree:This what you have to do to become a certified BCBA:
- Get your master’s degree. Skip to step 3 if your degree is from an ABAI-accredited institution.
- If your school is not accredited, complete 315 classroom hours (21 semester credits/32 quarter credits) of behavior-analytic courses or, alternatively, finish 3 years of work as a behavior-analytic faculty or research member.
- Complete 1,500 to 2,000 field hours under the oversight of an eligible supervisor.
- Submit your application and documents.
- Wait until you get a response within 45 days.
- If your application is approved, schedule your exam and pass it.
- Check and meet your local or state rules for ABA therapists.
Become a BCBA-D with a Doctorate Degree:The steps for becoming a BCBA and BCBA-D are very similar. To illustrate, this what getting a BCBA-D certification looks like:
- Gain 10 years of work experience as an ABA practitioner (teaching doesn't count) with a national, state, or local certification.
- Complete 500 hours of field work.
- Follow the rest of the steps that you would take to get your BCBA certification (steps 4-7 above) and renew it every 2 years.